October 25, 2014


Including marketing in strategic planning

Stacy Jones

Stacy Jones

In order for a nonprofit to be successful, there needs to be a roadmap for success.

The process of developing a strategic plan can bring the board and staff together to define organizational challenges and see opportunities, to set shared measurable goals and choose strategies to help meet those goals.

A strategic plan will align the organization around a common work plan. But all too often, marketing is completely left out of the discussion and the plan itself. 

Why does marketing matter in a strategic plan?

Marketing is often the main vehicle to reach goals that are set. Take for example a statewide association with more than a 100 member organizations around New York State.

This organization never had a strategic plan in its 30 year history. Is the organization surviving? Sure.

Has it grown to meet the demands of its members? Sadly, the organization still functions with the same three staff positions that started the organization, and this is rapidly becoming a problem. 

Like most nonprofits that engage in strategic planning, resources both human and financial were identified as a challenge for the organization. 

The organization's image and ability to "get the word out" were also identified as both a weakness and a challenge. 

For this organization these issues came right back to marketing, or in its case the lack of marketing. 

This organization is one step ahead of many in its ability to identify that marketing is both the answer and a priority.  

Find a good facilitator

The whole process can hinge both on an organization's willingness to engage in the process and the strength of a good facilitator. 

Find someone not already engaged in the organization but rather engaged in the nonprofit sector, who understands what nonprofits are all about. 

Let the facilitator guide the process and develop trust with the organization along the way. 

The right facilitator will help identify what's missing in the plan, make the staff and board comfortable enough to discuss critical issues, and make sure that concrete measurable goals have been set to head the organization in a positive direction. 

Include marketing in goal setting

Marketing is always an issue for nonprofits. Yet, most won't label marketing as a goal in a strategic plan.

A strategic plan should not be structured to just identify programs and services. It should be used on a larger scale to identify how the organization as a whole can grow and meet the demand of its community. 

If there is no marketing plan, of if there is or uncertainty about the organization's brand, identify this as work to be done.

The organization mentioned created a whole section in its strategic plan to include rebranding, creating a new website and developing a marketing plan. 

Stated this way, marketing becomes as much a priority as everything else for the organization and it automatically has board "buy in" when the time comes for the work to be done.

Don't forget marketing as a strategy in action steps

Many times an organization will set fund-development goals in the strategic plan or discuss how to grow specific programs and services. 

Often missing are the marketing strategies that can be utilized to accomplish these goals. 

If an organization wants to increase discretionary funding by 10 percent each year, the steps to accomplish that should be included in the plan. How will new donors be reached? How will current donors remain engaged and active?  If an event is planned, how will the community be notified? 

Strategic marketing is vital to answering every one of those questions and should be included in the plan so resources, both human and financial, can be identified and made a priority.

With just a little bit of planning and priority setting, marketing can become as important to an organization as the delivery of programs and services.

Once marketing is more than just an afterthought, it can truly become the vehicle through which to grow the organization.

Stacy Jones is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Troy, N.Y., and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate. Stacy can be reached at affiliates@shoestringgroup.com or 1-888-835-6236.


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